Fitch Farms featured in 4Memphis Magazine
by Stephanie Beliles; photography by Mark O. Ramirez
4Memphis-Magazine November, 2013
It is an early morning on a Sunday in October, and I am
whipping down country roads in North Mississippi. The
windows are down, the air is crisp, and I am exceptionally
nervous. Not because our photographer Mark is a bad driver,
but because I am on my way to play Grimm Reaper to some very
unassuming quail. It is my first hunt, and I pulse with anticipation.
It is hunting season again in the south. Sportsmen have cleaned their shotguns
and polished their various weapons at great length in eager anticipation.
Southern women are accustomed to losing their men to the great outdoors
nearly every weekend and living in homes that resemble war bunkers because
of the variety of gun and hunting paraphernalia hunters can be prone to hoard.
However, ask any man (or woman) who hunts what the appeal is, and they will
not answer with the gear. Instead most answers will resemble mine: It is a call
back to the wild, and nature’s pull for man to reestablish dominance. No matter
what one’s thoughts are on hunting, there is one unavoidable truth: there is a
narcotic quality to the chest-full of exhilaration and feeling of absolute power one
gets when trekking through the woods with a loaded shotgun in hand.
My father and brother both hunt, and I have witnessed the early morning
(practically still night) wakeup calls no matter the weather. I figure there must
be something remarkable about hunting for people to spend thousands of
dollars, lose valuable sleeping time, and march in the cold, snow, and rain. As
an outdoor enthusiast, I start researching on how to initiate my own journey into
hunting and decide to start with quail. Most carnivorous humans can agree that
hunting what you eat is a noble practice, and lucky for me, quail is quite tasty.
Another lucky stroke: one of the most celebrated places for quail hunting in the
South is a mere 40 minute drive to Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Sonny Jackson, the hunting coordinator for Fitch Farms, is more than obliging
to discuss hunting with fellow 4Memphian Mark and myself. Sonny is very
confident in the experience offered at Fitch Farms, and if he has any trepidation in me
reviewing their hunting experience (or him being in shooting range of
a girly novice with a shotgun), he does not show it. Mark and I soon don our
best hunting ensembles and away we travel. Pulling up to Fitch Farms allows
some immediate alleviation of whatever is emotionally ailing a person. They
raise Longhorn cattle, and the cattle can be seen grazing and heard baying as
cars turn into the gate. The flora is breathtaking, and one can only imagine the
spectacle of November and the leaves changing in a place like Fitch Farms. The
lodge and cabins all loan to the sense of Southern nostalgia of a time before cell
phones and NASDAQ.
Sonny greets me at the door of the lodge, and I am happy to observe that we
make it just in time for breakfast. Southerners, and specifically Mississippians,
know what breakfast really is: homemade biscuits, skillet eggs, homemade
preserves, thick cut bacon, freshly squeezed juice and fresh coffee. In the center
of the lodge towers one of the biggest cooking fire pits and ovens ever erected;
some 20,000 bricks were shipped in just for its assembly. An alleged seven
shoulders can be simultaneously slow cooked in it, while diners and relaxers in
the lodge are tortured by the tantalizing smells. This is all courtesy of the lodge’s
two cooks who keep everything homemade and home-style. As I choke down
my breakfast and head to the porch, a man whom I know has to be the owner
approaches the lodge.
W.O. (or Bill) Fitch is a man of legend. He served as a Navy pilot in the Korean
War. He climbed his way up the economic ladder in Wall Street with grit,
determination, and some old-fashioned luck. Bill is from Holly Springs, and
that is where his heart truly lies. Bill decided to raise his children in a simpler
Southern environment, and as he had inherited Galena Plantation, he moved
his family there. He purchased land around Galena Plantation, and it is home
to Fitch Farms (or Narnia for hunters). He is quite the history buff, and so
the extraordinary landowner would not settle for average lodging. Instead, Bill
bought, transported, and restored Nathan Bedford Forrest’s old cabin home.
Bill and his wife Aleita have made a very impressive home in the old Forrest
cabin, complete with old Civil War and Nathan Bedford Forrest memorabilia.
Thanking Mr. Fitch, I travel down to my transportation for the day: mule drawn
carriages. While I have the option of hunting on horseback, I feel that while I am
hunting that riding in the very traditional looking set of wheels is in everyone’s
best interest. Our morning hunt is with a very charming and enthusiastic hunter
named Roger Cameron of Fredericksburg, Texas. Roger is “in the oil business”
in Texas and travels with his own hunting dogs. Our group climbs in the wagon
and heads off into the woods. The quail at Fitch Farms has been imported
and then released in “traps” throughout the trails, meaning that at different
locations the birds are set loose and free to roam. This does not make it a cake
walk for hunters. Quail will move around, thus the need for ultra-obedient dogs,
like Buck, the farms champion pointer. I take the first round of hunting as an
opportunity to observe (or stall) and note Roger shooting. He follows his dog
to where he has frozen in point, and then he kicks around in the brush until
two quails rise. Roger, a gentleman in his 70s, takes out both birds, one shot
apiece. I imagine this to be very easy, and when we break for lunch, my anxiety
in all of my ignorance eases.
Lunch is not cold cuts. Lunch at Fitch Farms is country fired steak, green beans,
cornbread dressing, and homemade rolls with sweet tea and preserves. It
takes extreme self-control not to eat a third plate as I do not want to fall asleep
with a firearm in my hand. The men sit around and tell stories, and I imagine
that much like fishing, some stories have added bonus detail over the years.
Everything about lunch and the lodge is delightful, but it is my turn to hunt, and
I have something to prove.
In a blink of an eye we get back on the wagon and on the trail. This afternoon
Mark and I are hunting with Sonny and the farm’s crew. Buck, who is known far
and wide as the best quail hunting dog period thanks to the training by Randy
Downs, runs ahead in a fever and then suddenly freezes. I freeze, too, because
I am fully aware it is do or die time. The Farms has guns for those without, and
I am without a gun, so I load my borrowed 20 gauge over under and tensely
walk over to where Buck is frozen in point. Mark and I are both going for the kill.
Sonny and hunting guide Willy kick around in the bramble until, like a rocket,
a quail bursts from the underbrush and banging fills the air (not shots from my
gun, mind you: I forget to switch off my safety). It is only moments later that
we unearth another quail, and this time I am ready. I shoot, and the bird goes
down. I am expecting a feeling of guilt or trauma, and it is not there. I am (wo)
man, and I am the king of beasts. I earned my supper tonight, and I am very
proud of it.
The rest of the afternoon is a blur of excitement and moderate frustration. It is
not easy, and my beginner’s luck set a high bar for the remainder of my hunt.
As we ride and walk along in the absolute stillness and raw beauty of Mother
Nature, I have an Avatar moment where I prayerfully thank the dead quail for
their sacrifice and feel at complete peace with nature in that quiet moment. The
gratitude for the opportunity to experience this with people like Sonny and Roger
and Bill and Mark is overwhelming. In fact, dignitaries and every politician from
the state of Mississippi has hunted here or had a fundraiser here. This is where
the big boys come to be men. I tell the group I could practically write a sonnet
about it, but I do not because I have a feeling the feminine sentiment is lost
on this lot. I then note that I must buy a shotgun when I get back to Memphis,
because I have to do this more often.
The hunt ends, and Mark and I take what I estimate to be one thousand photos
with our pathetic kill (do not ask me how many because I will probably lie).
We enjoy a cold beverage and relive the hunt on the lodge’s porch. I observe
men enjoying each other’s company and nature in such a renewed way, and I
cannot imagine why bachelor parties are in Las Vegas instead of Fitch Farms: it
is closer, more cost efficient, there is certainly cards being played in the lodge,
and you are not looking for trouble when you are shooting your gun. Mark and I
begrudgingly climb back into the car and ride back to Memphis, but we have all
the windows down and continue to excitedly relive our full day at Fitch Farms.
We will be back, and we are bringing others. However, I will have my own gun.
Learn more about Fitch Farms at fitchfarms.com or call at 662-551-2280.